BEREA — Jeannette Rowlett points out the framed black-and-white photos that line the walls of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen office in Berea: "These show the guild, really from the beginning up into the 50th year.
"It told the history of the guild, from the Guild Train because we have pictures of that," Rowlett says. "It just brought back a lot of memories, especially for a lot of the older members who were there. There was a lot of reminiscing."
That was last year, as the guild celebrated a half-century promoting artists and crafts people in Kentucky and educating new generations of artists. After a year of looking back, as the guild prepares to present its annual fall fair at Berea's Indian Fort Theatre this weekend, it is looking forward to new things, particularly a new building.
Down North Broadway from the current office, efforts are under way to renovate the old Powdermill Pottery building, with its signature blue tin roof, into a 5,500-square-foot home for the guild. The space is scheduled to open at the end of this year or early in 2013.
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"We've got to make sure we're a stable organization for future generations," Rowlett says. "That why we purchased the building, so we could have a permanent home and a place where we could market members' work across the state."
A permanent home is a profound shift from the guild's early years.
In its first six years, the guild sent a train around the state, showing the work of its artists and teaching crafts. In those days, its membership was a few dozen. In recent years, its roster has been 350 to 400 juried members.
Part of the new space will be dedicated to selling works by members, giving Berea another prominent arts and crafts attraction. The Madison County town of a little more than 13,000 residents already boasts the Kentucky Artisan Center near Interstate 75 and numerous galleries and shops near Berea College. And the guild markets work by members in its current office and other members' shops in town.
Rowlett lays out plans for the guild that make it a more active component of that scene, including the new center and refocusing its twice-yearly fairs on the quickly growing town.
The fall fair has been run for decades in and around town and at Berea's Indian Fort Theatre for five years. After three years in Bowling Green, the spring fair will come back to the same location June 1 and 2.
"We'll have about a hundred-plus artists, all mediums," Rowlett says. "We'll have blacksmiths, basket makers, even a leather person who makes belts and purses, lots of jewelry, lots of pottery, woodworking. You name it, if it's a visual art, we have it, because that's what we're all about."
The guild also is about perpetuating art forms that are in danger of fading as newer generations focus more on technology, and handmade traditions are not passed down through families.
Rowlett says the guild is hardly against technology, even offering members workshops on building Web sites and using Facebook and Twitter to promote their work. But it also aims to help develop new practitioners of crafts that bring ooohs, ahhhs and exclamations of "how did you do that?" when people see them.
That's where the new building comes in.
"We're thinking of having weekly classes," Rowlett says. "We're serious about teaching the next generation, so it won't just be one four-hour class or six-hour class. It would be a five-day, 9-to-5 class, and if you want to move on, there would be intermediate and advance classes, so at the end, you should be a pretty good artist and know if that's what you want to do."
Another major portion of the building would be dedicated to exhibition and sales of artists, which does happen to an extent in the guild's current home, roughly the size of your average strip-mall shop. But this would be a more prominent and substantial attraction.
"One of the things people tell us when they visit Berea is they are overwhelmed by the amount of art here," Rowlett says.
More is on the way.